Al Mawakeb School is a private, K-12 school (4 to 18 years of age) located in Al Barsha, Dubai. The school is one of two campuses located in Dubai (the other based in Garhoud) managed by the Academia Management Solution International (AMSI).
Al Mawakeb School Al Barsha has been rated Good for the fourth year running in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full reports have been published.
The story so far...
Al Mawakeb, the Barsha school was established in 1997 (considerably newer than the Garhoud branch) and currently has approximately 2,800 students from a range of backgrounds and nationalities, but one in four come from Emirati families. US students account for approximately 5%.
In line with the school's Levant influence, kindergarten students are taught through the medium of French with English and Arabic as additional lessons. From Elementary onwards, the curriculum is delivered in English with French and Arabic as separate subjects.
Students study a modified US curriculum based on the California State Common Core standards, combined with the Ministry of Education Islamic Education and Arabic curricula. The school is accredited by NEASC - the New England Association of Schools and Colleges - a requirement for all US curriculum schools in Dubai, which ensures the standards of the curriculum and recognition of the High School Diploma issued by the school to graduating students. From Grade 5 boys and girls are separated.
The school employs 170 teachers, one in 5 of whom were new to the school at the start of the academic year, together with a further 10 teaching assistants. Average staff turnover in Dubai is 20-22% per annum, but it is clearly advantageous to a school to minimise this churn. With a staff:student ratio of 1:16, demands on staff are relatively high. The Principal is also a relative new-comer, having joined Al Mawakeb Al Barsha in August 2017. According to information received by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com teachers must come from either Syria or Lebanon, as they have to be fluent in Arabic, English and French.
What about the Facilities?
School facilities at Al Mawakeb include a library, science and computer labs, art workshops and a school clinic. The school is located on sprawling site and its buildings are deemed to be "well maintained and provide a suitable environment for learning" according to the KHDA. In addition the school also is a recognized SAT exam center for students who wish to enter college.
The school offers regular physical education classes, including out of school hours training for basketball, volleyball, track and field, table tennis and football. The school also organizes and annual ski trip abroad, and has a wide array of clubs - from Robotics to Drama, from Computer club to Piano.
What the inspectors say
The most recent KHDA report for 2017-18, based on the inspection which took place in February 2018, rated the school as Good for the third year in a row, following seven years of being rated Acceptable. The 2015-16 report noted that the past year school had succeeded in meeting all of the KHDA's requirements including; improving self-evaluation; improvement planning; as well as improving the quality of support across all phases, leading to a Good rating.
The new Principal appears to have made a good impression with inspectors noting that "The school is well led by the principal and leadership team. The distribution of leadership roles ensures that, across the school, there is a clear focus on students' personal and academic development. Leaders have effectively sustained and reinforced good progress and attainment across the school. While relationships with parents are generally positive, parents are not represented on the governing board." However, the report also notes that "The school lacks both a deputy principal and a curriculum coordinator with experience of US education." These are significant gaps in the key leadership of the school.
The school's key strengths, recognised by the KHDA, were noted as:
In terms of academic achievement, the judgements for progress and attainment for the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science and the Arabic-based subjects of Islamic Education, and Arabic as a first and additional language are overwhelmingly rated as Good. This is almost a mirror of the ratings at the older, Al Mawakeb School in Garhoud. There have been a few improvements since the previous inspection - attainment in Elementary School Islamic Education, and High School Arabic as a first language have improved to Very Good and Good respectively, whilst progress in High School English and Science have improved to Very Good, as have High School Learning Skills, but in general, little change has been made in the past 12 months. Since the focus of the KHDA inspections is on improvement, this is somewhat disappointing.
Where Al Mawakeb Al Barsha clearly has strength is in the Personal and Social Development and Innovation skills of its students. Almost all judgements across all sections of the school rate this as Very Good, with the exception of High School students in terms of their Social Responsibility and Innovation skills, which were upgraded to the top rating of Outstanding. Inspectors commented that "Students' personal and social development is a strength of the school. They share their learning and ideas in a supportive environment. Positive relationships and the development of well-rounded character are features of the school."
Two further key areas of focus for the Inspection team - that of Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum were again rated almost universally rated Good - the exceptions being Assessment in KG and Elementary which were rated only Acceptable. Since these are the two core areas of the school that will have the most impact on Student Achievement, the correlation in the ratings is clear. However, the inspectors found that "although inconsistent, there are many examples of good teaching across the school. Full use is not being made of assessment information to guide lesson planning, particularly in the lower grades." This would appear to be a training issue for the school's management to address.
Although there were no changes in judgements in relation to the Curriculum, improvements have clearly been made with the report noting that "The curriculum is fully aligned with the California state standards. Enhancements have added breadth to the curriculum, while also successfully weaving in the UAE national priorities. More choice is given to students in the high school, with the introduction of the US credit based system." The curriculum design and implementation in the High School remained rated Acceptable, whilst for the other sections it was rated Good.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students are rated Very Good in terms of Health and Safety, and Good in regard to Care and Support. The report highlights that "The identification of students with SEND and of those who have particular gifts or talents, is improving because of better assessment procedures. Teachers are provided with training to meet the learning needs of different groups of students. However, while students with SEND benefit from specialist teaching when withdrawn from lessons, support in lessons is more variable. Older students are provided with effective guidance on higher education and career options."
In line with the majority of other judgements, the leadership and management of Al Mawakeb Al Barsha were rated Good. Inspectors found that "The principal and leadership team are strongly committed to the UAE national goals and to the provision of a high quality US curriculum, which develops students' academic, personal and social skills in a happy environment." They also praised the Governors of the school noting that "Learning resources are readily supplied and provision is available for the hiring of specialists or other personnel to enhance provision." However, they urged that Governors include representation from parents and the school community on the governing board.
The main recommendations from the KHDA inspection team to Al Makaweb Al Barsha were that the school should:
Given the apparent drive of the new Principal and the support of the Governors in ensuring that resources are made available, it will be interesting to see how far Al Mawakeb Al Barsha progresses in achieving these recommendations.
Based on the KHDA's pre-inspection questionnaire which was returned by some 338 parents, satisfaction with the school is not as high as might have been anticipated - some 17% strongly disagreeing that they are happy with the quality of education provided. The report states that "Responses from parents are mixed. The satisfaction rate with teaching is not high. Over a quarter of respondents feel teachers do not know their children’s strengths and weaknesses; the feedback their children receive does not help them improve and there is some ineffective teaching. One third are unhappy with the school’s career and academic guidance. Around half of the respondents feel that special education needs are not accurately identified, and although school leadership listens to what parents have to say they do not act on it."
84% of students (some 400 respondents), were happy or reasonably happy to be at the school. However, a minority of students feel that they do not contribute in deciding things at school or make a difference - a comment also made by students at the Al Garhoud branch. Students would like to participate in activities to develop their leadership skills, become environmentally responsible and have a wider choice of extra-curricular activities. Other areas of concern include the effectiveness of career and academic guidance, and the use of ICT to develop their research skills.
School fees for 2017- 2018 are mid range, beginning at AED 14,245 per year at KG, rising to AED 23,092 for Grade 12. However, the tuition fee for Grades 11 and 12 includes a notebook computer fully loaded with the material required for their program, one set of P.E. uniform, two sets of school uniform & a comprehensive personal accident cover. The notebook computer is purchased once either in Grade 11 or Grade 12. If it is already acquired in Grade 11, the student will be entitled to a deduction of its price in Grade 12. There are additional fees for tailored Arabic courses for students.
Feedback to WSA is that class sizes can be high - up to 30 per class. The primary section is taught like the high school, with specialist teachers for specific subjects such as Science, Maths, Arabic. The school employs a sticks and sweets approach to teaching which can work for some children, but is not the most modern of educational practices. Children are also subject to regular test or 'quizzes', similar to the Choueifat model. Some parents have told WSA it is not necessarily the most creative environment for children.
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